Where will we be darlin' Can we come back from the dead? Two ghosts without a home, Haunting dreams of what we had. - from Will We Be Together Then by Randy Quaid
In a North Vancouver recording studio, Randy Quaid is re-inventing himself.
And why not? If you are a Hollywood celebrity, coming back from a public meltdown is becoming a popular career move. But while disgraced sitcom star Charlie Sheen takes his Violent Torpedo of Truth tour across North America, turning his out-there rants into box-office gold, Quaid has a different approach to career redemption. He wants to be taken seriously as a musician.
"I like writing the songs," Quaid says, sitting at the soundboard, sunglasses on. "I want to take it as far as possible."
On a recent Thursday night, Quaid is having his first listen to the sound mix for his recording of Star Whackers, the conspiracy-theory anthem he hopes will help him carve some musical credibility out of the remains of his acting career and all those nasty headlines.
While Star Whackers is a crazed, shouted tirade against "those sleazy Star Whackers!" his other song, Will We Be Together Then, is a slow, soulful ballad. The love song may not make headlines, but it's what caught the attention of a small independent record label, eventually leading to this studio.
"I love that performance. It's perfect," says Quaid's ever-present wife, Evi, sitting behind him in the studio.
Her favourite moment is when he breaks down on that line about two ghosts without a home.
"Which is us!" Evi says. "This is the soundtrack to the truth!"
Witness the preparations for the second coming of Randy Quaid. Oscar-nominated (way back in 1974 for The Last Detail), Golden Globe-winning (for his take on LBJ in a 1980s TV miniseries), the character actor - probably best known as the cousin Eddie character in the Chevy Chase Vacation films - says he's done with Hollywood. A wanted man in the United States, he couldn't work there even if he wanted to, but he has other plans anyway.
"The whole movie scene right now doesn't really interest me," he says. "I don't like the movies for the most part being made. They're all special effects and cartoons. I would love to do a great role, but I'm not looking to just work."
Quaid, 60, is a big guy, over 6-foot-4 - and impossible to miss even if he weren't a celebrity - but warm and on the quiet side. Evi, 47, is his intense, yet charismatic counterpart. Dressed all in black, right down to her hat, she's constantly in motion, talking, curious, quirky. She's the kind of person who, though suffering from well-publicized money troubles, gives a homeless guy $20 to feed the parking meter outside a restaurant, because she doesn't have change.
Married for almost 22 years, the Quaids are inseparable - "symbiotic," Randy says. You might call them partners in crime.
The Quaids entered Canada on Oct. 17, 2010, and were arrested four days later. There are outstanding warrants in California, where they are facing felony vandalism and misdemeanour trespassing charges relating to alleged squatting on a property they once owned. Appearing at an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing in Vancouver, they claimed refugee status, saying they were seeking asylum from a murderous group targeting Hollywood celebrities: the now-notorious "star whackers." When Evi revealed that her father was Canadian, she was granted citizenship. Now she's sponsoring Randy.
In early days, they were spotted sleeping in their car; now they have a place to stay in Vancouver, they say, cautiously avoiding details. Days are spent at the law firm Miller Thomson's offices, making phone calls and sending e-mail. They don't use cellphones any more - they don't trust them - and they note that the law office e-mail is secure.
"Our lives have improved dramatically since we came here," Randy says. "I feel safer."
In the recording studio, they devise strategies for Randy's musical career. There's talk of turning the Star Whackers phrase "tainted drug prescriptions!" into a ringtone and also animated fantasizing about the proposal, pitched earlier that day, to have Randy open for Charlie Sheen in Vancouver on May 2 - a proposal that was summarily shot down by Sheen's management.
There are discussions about touring, releasing an EP and other musical plans. "Our whole saga would make a great rock opera," Evi declares.
But tonight they're focusing on those two songs, to be released digitally on May 3.
"It's like he's channelling something," Evi says. "The [songs are]coming out of his fingertips."
She turns to Randy. "You're like a waterfall that never stops."
These autobiographical songs demonstrate a willingness to trade on their messed-up state of affairs.
"I think there's an open hunting season on celebrities," Quaid told The Globe and Mail during a lengthy interview. "You know, you can whack somebody in more ways than offing them."
The Quaids' ambitions sound dubious. But Glenn Selig, whose public-relations firm deals in crisis management, says Randy's comeback is attainable.
"Hollywood is filled with all sorts of strange birds. [What the Quaids are accused of]is strange, it's bizarre, it's weird, it's all those things, and it may even be criminal. But it isn't ... anything that the public would find absolutely unforgivable," said Selig, when contacted by The Globe. In fact, it might even improve Quaid's career fortunes, says Selig, whose clients include disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.
Indeed, would people be Tweeting about Quaid buying pulled-pork sandwiches from a Vancouver street vendor if it hadn't been for the star whackers publicity? Would Evi's docudrama Star Whackers (a work in progress that had its first public screening Friday and was to include scenes of Randy performing Shakespearean soliloquies) be noted by media outlets including New York Magazine, USA Today and CNN? Would Randy Quaid have a record deal? Would Canadian producer Michael Donovan ( This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Bowling for Columbine) be in talks with the Quaids about a television series? Would the CBC be interested? Would there be any serious discussion about any Quaid show if it weren't for the Quaid freak show?
"I think people are naturally interested in anything they see to be an aberration," Quaid said over dinner after the studio session. "If you don't use it to your advantage, you're victimized by it."
If he's worried that his art is being trumped by his troubles, he's not letting on.
"In a way, it's enhancing it. In other ways, it overshadows it from time to time. But I think ultimately art is more powerful than lies."
The art he's most interested in these days is music. Maximum Music Group, a tiny, but Juno Award-winning Vancouver record label, will release Quaid's singles digitally (on iTunes and elsewhere online) at 99 cents a pop. President Brian Watson has stars in his eyes about his most recently signed artist - and dollar signs.
"We hope this goes viral," Watson told The Globe. "I'd love to sell a million copies and it's not impossible."
Quaid's band, the Fugitives, is made up of four lawyers found through Miller Thomson. "I need a bunch of lawyers around me right now," he jokes.
"The first thing everybody wants to know is are they crazy," says Mark Hopkinson, an intellectual-property lawyer who plays guitar with Quaid. Hopkinson defends the couple, saying it's their presentation of their conspiracy theory that's caused them trouble. Leaving the recording studio, he instructs: "Be nice to them."
On the phone from New Jersey, Evi's father acknowledges he has wondered about his daughter's mental health, but says he has chosen to support her.
"She's flamboyant, but she's stable," said George Raymond Motolanez, who was born in St. Walburg, Sask., in 1933 and in 1954 graduated from the School of Radio and Television Arts at Toronto's Ryerson.
"As far as the star-whackers thing goes, to be honest with you, I talked to her and I tried to talk her down but she's convinced she's not the only one," he said.
"Some of her family here has sort of abandoned her just like Randy's brother has abandoned him ... but I'm certainly not going to abandon her."
Dennis Quaid, Randy's younger and more famous brother, broke his silence on the matter recently to People magazine. "I love my brother and I miss my brother. That's all I'm going to say."
Randy says support from family and friends has been scarce.
"It just makes me kind of lose faith in humanity.... Your own family not believing you, not standing by you."
When asked how they're doing financially, Quaid says they're managing.
Times can't be too tough: At a bistro in Vancouver's trendy Gastown, the bartender knows Randy's drink (martini). The wait staff knows them too. Nobody blinks when Evi orders a steak for Doji, the dog.
The Quaids may have established a new life and made new friends in Vancouver, but it's going to take more than that to reclaim Randy's reputation.
What would vindication look like?
For Evi it's a three-leg concert tour: "You go across Canada doing the small clubs, you come back doing the medium clubs and then you go back across doing the large clubs," she says to Randy. "That sounds like vindication."
He has a different idea.
"If anything, what I would want is to have her [Evi]vindicated. I'm okay. I want her vindicated. She is the most incredible, wonderful, truthful, honest, the most sane person I've ever known."
Are the Quaids likeable? Yes. Believable? That's tougher. Redeemable? Even Randy Quaid can't answer whether these two ghosts without a home can come back from the dead, but he's making the most of the challenge.
"Everything provides an opportunity. We have an opportunity to be victimized by it or we have an opportunity to embrace it and use it in a fashion that makes it a positive attempt. Even the attempt, whether it's successful or not, just the attempt is gratifying."